I bought Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman because I follow her on Twitter and have long thought she might just be the most hilarious woman ever. She also drew my attention to the My New Pink Button box, which is labia dye. That’s right, labia dye. It promises to ‘restore the youthful pink color back to your labia’, but as Moran tweeted: ‘Ladies, if you are worried you have a “grey” labia, you officially have enough time to get a PPE degree & SOME PERESPECTIVE’.
The other reason I bought the book was because I love women’s magazines – at least I would if they weren’t uniformly filled with poison (ok, I still like the bits where they show the red carpet women in dresses, and the problem pages). I stopped buying them though because it’s insanity to pay three quid for something that you’ve read cover to cover before you even finish your cigarette. (I spent a quid on my second hand copy of War and Peace and that lasted me for solid months.) I still read and love the Sunday Times Style magazine because it has actual proper articles (as well as one of those cool thermometer things that says what new stuff is good and what is bad) but the downside is that there’s too many features on clothes that only millionaires can afford. (How many Times readers can really spunk a grand on an occasional handbag? I genuinely am curious.)
So, in How To Be a Woman I was hoping for a Style magazine that would last me a week or two – but edited by a woman who I could see from the cover believed in flat shoes. Yes, I wanted a woman who wasn’t going to glorify a £600 handbag that looked like a dead spaniel to me, or suggest in any way that spending 21k on a wedding made any sense – someone who wanted to address women’s issues (motherhood, not-motherhood, sex, love, work, abortion, oppression, music and whatever else) without calling them ‘women’s issues’ and being dreary about them.
My first attempt at getting hold of this was buying the beautifully designed Backwards in High Heels when it came out. (Caitlin Moran could probably have told me that this would be shit from the title. It’s hard enough going forwards in high heels, as we all know.) It described itself as ‘a book for every woman struggling to make sense of the contradictory demands of the 21st Century’, which sounded great. Its advice? Buy expensive art not cheap handbags. Learn how to make a signature dish. Thanks for those.
So did Caitlin Moran come up with the goods where Backwards in High Heels failed? I feel like she did. I wasn’t crazy about the shouty capitals that abound through the book, I found some of her conclusions lazily drawn and I thought she contradicted herself at times – but one of the main things I found refreshing about the book was that her take on what it’s like to be a woman was utterly personal. After all, isn’t that real feminism, the acknowledgement that there’s no such thing as a book about the female experience? Moran suggests to her readers that, if they’re wondering whether or not something is an issue of sexism, they should ask themselves whether men have to put up with anything equivalent. Would there ever be a book on what it means to be a man? Of course not. That would seem ridiculous – men are as unique as snowflakes and so (don’t believe Jan Moir) are women.
So what does it mean to be Caitlin Moran? And what is there to relate to in this book? Well, plenty. Moran is clumsy, tough, hilarious, drunken and not afraid to wee in public. She is a vocal champion for the full and unabashed furry muff, which she has a million different names for (Tom’s Midnight Garden being one of my all-time favourites). She has made a fool of herself in a variety of amusing ways. She even talks frankly about the abortion she had as a married mother of two – her whole philosophy for feminism is based around being honest about your experience on the grounds that it’s pointless us all pretending that we always like our children or want anal sex at the breakfast table or that we’re poised and elegant all the time just because it’s what expected of us as women.
The fact is that Moran is the sort of feminist men like and find funny, and that makes her a very useful tool in the fight against THE PATRIARCHY (as she would shout). She has similar views to Mr Literary Kitty on the subject of high heels: firstly that women are annoying whilst wearing them (when they inevitably require piggy backs, Moran sagely notes, men are the pigs whose backs are called for); secondly: that only ten women in the world can actually walk in them. Most women wearing them walk like dinosaurs. Caitlin Moran doesn’t say anything about boob tubes in her ‘things I’ve learned about clothes’ list, but I suspect that she might just echo Mr Literary Kitty’s firm belief that they are awful and unflattering. ‘They make all boobs look long,’ he tells me. He also agrees with Moran’s advice that, ‘Contrary to popular opinion, a belt is often not a good friend to a lady’ or, as he puts it: ‘Why would anyone want to split their fat in two with a belt?’ Well, quite.
So there you have it – Caitlin Moran’s book isn’t The Female Eunuch but it says some funny, sensible things about what one woman has learnt about being a woman. It’s not a women’s bible but then what would we do with that, realistically? Instead, it’s like a long, funny magazine article with actual warmth and the odd deep thought for the reader to chew on – which was exactly what I’ve been looking for all this time.